Story: When was New Zealand first settled?

Types of evidence for dating New Zealand settlement

Types of evidence for dating New Zealand settlement

With its cluster of information dating from 1300 AD onwards, this chart illustrates the remarkable agreement among the different types of evidence for people first settling in New Zealand around that period. Ash-fall dates from volcanic eruptions are shown on the left. On the right are radiocarbon dates obtained from archaeological sites and from rat-nibbled shells and seeds. The far right shows changes in abundance of different types of pollen – indicating forest clearance. Some radiocarbon dates for the bones of the Pacific rat (kiore) stand out, as they give much earlier ages (at the bottom of the chart). Either these dates are for some reason earlier than the true age of the bones, or a canoe carried the rat to New Zealand around 50–150 AD – over 1,000 years before the accepted date of settlement. If so, this was probably a transient contact by people from New Caledonia, Fiji or West Polynesia, and the canoe’s occupants did not settle.

Using this item

Private collection, David J. Lowe
Reference: Lowe, D. J. and R. M. Newnham, ‘Role of tephra in dating Polynesian settlement and impact, New Zealand.’ PAGES (Past Global Changes) News 12, no. 3 (2004): 5–7.

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How to cite this page:

Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, 'When was New Zealand first settled? - The date debate', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/diagram/3610/types-of-evidence-for-dating-new-zealand-settlement (accessed 19 April 2019)

Story by Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 20 May 2016